A History of Preston in Hertfordshire
Preston’s Farms: Preston Hill Farm
Map showing the fields of Preston Hill Farm - 1848.
Preston Hill Farm - Comparison of field names and sizes - 1885 (left) and 1848 (right)
Map of Preston Hill Farm in 1885
The Goothridges
At the beginning of the nineteenth century Preston Hill Farm was owned by John Gootheridge (1770c-1850). His family, the  Goothridges, had lived at the farm since the mid-seventeenth century. In 1725, a John Goothridge was paying Poor Rates in Preston - as was Benjamin Goothridge in 1740. John Goothridge continued to contribute in 1761. He was accorded the distinction of being referred to as “Mr” indicating an elevated social status. John died at Preston in 1771 and his will mentions his wife Mary and a son, John. His standing in the Hitchin community may be gauged by the reference in his will to local maltsters and businessmen, William Wilshire and John Dearmer, as ‘my good friends’. The Militia List of 1773 records a John Goothridge, miller, in Preston and from 1775 to 1785 he was described as a farmer. (There was also a Thomas Goothridge, a baker, at Preston in 1773.) John junior’s son, also named John, farmed at Preston Hill Farm until 1848. Thus, there were three generations of John Goothridges in Preston for more than 120 years. There are three detailed maps of the farm in the nineteenth century – dated 1802 (the Kings Walden enclosure map),1848 and 1885. These maps show the fields and accompanying keys give the names of the fields. However, part of the enclosure map has been damaged so that not all of the details can be seen. The documents indicate that the farm grew from 227 acres in 1816 to 246 acres in 1848 and 1885. Some of the names of the fields changed during this time. In 1816 there were Great and Little Goslingdell, Elmer’s Orchard and Foxholes. By 1885, new field names had been coined: Reeves Meadow, May’s Meadow and Ward’s Meadow. A comparison of the maps and awards above shows that many of the fields of 1848 had been amalgamated into larger tracts of land by 1885. The hedgerows clearly portrayed in 1848 had been uprooted as the fields expanded. It was clearly felt that several fields were too small for efficient farming. Possibly also the hedgerows were preventing the uniform ripening of crops.
The sale of Preston Hill Farm - 1848
John Goothridge died in 1850. Shortly before his death, he sold Preston Hill Farm by auction near the Bank of England, London on 2 June 1848. The Sale Particulars provide a wonderful description of the farm: The main farm house had six bedrooms, a kitchen, two parlours or sitting rooms, a brew-house, washhouse and two beer and wine cellars. The outbuildings included six corn barns (five with planking, one with clinkers), stabling, a two-storey granary and two ‘warm cattle yards’. It was ‘a compact and truly desirable enclosed farm’ of 240 acres of arable land, pasture and woodland. John Goothridge had followed an ‘easy succession’ of corn, turnips and clover. There were three cattle ponds and a ‘well of never failing pure water’ –  major considerations in the days before piped mains water. The fields were bounded by ‘live hedges’ and the farm was encircled by a ring fence. The surrounding area was extolled as ‘abounding with game and in the vicinity of foxhounds’. The farm included four cottages to house its labourers. Even the bill of expenses incurred by the auctioneers during the sale of the farm has been preserved. It lists the printing and colouring of 200 Particulars and Plans; the wages of the men who spent six days distributing the Particulars; the (town) criers’ fees for announcing the sale and the cost of advertising the sale in newspapers such as the Morning Chronicle and The Times. This gives a remarkable insight into how farms were sold in the middle of the nineteenth century.
George Wright
Preston Hill Farm was managed from 1850 until the 1870s by George Wright. George was born in the nearby village of Pirton, Herts in 1809. His father John Wright was a yeoman farmer of some means – in his will, the bequests alone amounted to £1,750. John was farming at Preston (probably at Pond Farm, Charlton Road) in 1841. That year, on 11 December 1841, John died. His death was notified by Mary Jeeves of Preston. In 1851, George Wright was employing 10 men. It was under his management that the size of many of the fields increased. The farmhouse was demolished and replaced between 1848 and 1885. The local paper reported  incidents involving George Wright. In 1856, he was charged with assaulting a farm labourer, Thomas Ward. The complainant said that he had gone to a lane to look for his donkeys at eleven o’clock one morning when he discovered that they had strayed into Mr Wright’s fields. He went in to ‘fetch them out’. Whilst there, George approached him and asked him what he was doing there. He replied that he was fetching out the donkeys which had got through a gap in the hedge. George retorted that he would take the law into his own hands and struck Ward in the face with his fist. He said he would thrash him if he didn’t take himself off. George accepted the charge but added that when he told Ward that neither he nor his donkeys had any right on his land, Ward kicked him on the leg. George was fined five shillings and costs. In 1870, George (61), was found guilty of assaulting one of his labouring boys, Samuel Reeves, who was 11 years old and lived with his parents in one of Preston Hill Farm’s cottages. The boy appeared in court with ‘his arm very much injured’. George was fined £3 including costs. He evidently did not learn his lesson for three years later he was again summoned before Hitchin magistrates because he assaulted a young woman, Mary Slater. This time, his case was not heard as ‘a satisfactory arrangement had been come to between himself and the complainant’s father and the young woman did not now wish to press the charge’.
Frederick Armstrong
By 1881, George had retired to Graveley, near Hitchin and Frederick Armstrong was the yearly tenant farmer – a position he held until his death in 1911. There is a page about his family at this link: Armstrong). In 1885, Preston Hill Farm was again sold as part of the Kings Walden Estate together with Leggatt’s Farm, Parsonage Farm and Wants End Farm.
Preston Hill Farmhouse